Planners: No to Four Farms

Published 10:23 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Commissioners unanimously oppose big project

After a lengthy public hearing but a minimal amount of discussion, the Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend denial of the controversial Four Farms development.

Some commissioners expressed approval of the project in itself but added they still haven’t seen an approved traffic study. Facing a statutory deadline to make a recommendation, they voted in accordance with the recommendation of city staff.

Opponents of the project expressed some relief after the meeting but pledged to continue the fight next month, when City Council will consider action.

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“The work doesn’t stop,” said Terri Morgan, a member of Suffolk Citizens for Responsible Growth, which formed to fight the development. “It’s important to push this all the way to Council.”

The massive development by South Suffolk Properties, LLC, planned to occur on 462 acres between White Marsh and Hosier roads, would include nearly 2,000 housing units, including a mix of single- and multi-family types, as well as 164,000 square feet of commercial space. It would also include a variety of parks, lakes and open spaces, as well as a 19-acre site for an elementary school.

Eighteen speakers came forward during the public hearing to express their views on the project. Half were against it, including one man who presented a petition with 600 signatures to the Planning Commission.

From the beginning, the main opposition to the project has been traffic. The developers’ first traffic study caused some intersections on already-congested East Washington Street to drop below an acceptable level of service, so they set out to revise their traffic study.

The developers then decided to change the timing of a connector road between the development and Carolina Road. They now say they would begin construction on it before selling any housing units.

City staff, however, had not had time to review the changes to the traffic studies, and therefore the original recommendation of denial remained unchanged.

Robert Lewis, the city’s traffic engineer, told the Planning Commission that the connector road “appears to be a very positive connection for the city for a number of reasons.”

Commissioners William Perry and Ritchie Jordan said they think the project would be an asset to the city, but still voted to deny it based on the lack of an approved traffic study.

Commissioner Ronnie Rountree disagreed based on the comments from nearby residents.

“They don’t want to see development come forth,” he said.

The project will be discussed by City Council on Jan. 19.